Here is a truly inspiring landscape created by customers Pascale and Matt at their home on the bench. They describe their soil as alkaline clay. They write: “We’ve found some plants do fine in the clay- lavender, artemisia, most ornamental grasses, ice plants, echinacea, Jupiter’s beard and catmint. For the more drainage-sensitive plants we had soil brought in and built small berms. We used a sandy loam mixed with lava fines. It was really tough to keep up with the watering the first summer until we got the drip irrigation installed, now it’s a pretty low-maintenance yard.” Low maintenance and stunning!
Glorious May! There is so much plant excitement right now–among other things, it’s chokecherry bloom time. The Japanese are justly proud of their flowering cherries, but here in the western U.S., we have our chokecherries! If you hike in the foothills, you will recognize the dangling flower clusters easily. A dead giveaway for chokecherry i.d., they help you distinguish this plant from its very common cousin, bitter cherry. Later on, when the fruits are in season, try one to discover exactly why they deserve the name chokecherry! There are numerous recipes online for chokecherry juice, syrup and jam. I haven’t tried them, but apparently (and surprisingly) the results are tasty. Unsurprisingly, chokecherries are one of those super fruits like blueberries–high in antioxidants and all kinds of other healthy compounds. So, when you get the chance, try one.
The Tortoise Theory of Plants
Remember the old story of the Tortoise and the Hare? The Hare was fast and over-confident, but the humble tortoise just kept plodding along. We all know who won the race . . . . Lately, I have developed the ‘Tortoise’ theory of landscape plants. This is an amendment to the ‘Sleep, Creep, Leap’ idea about perennials in general. It has struck me that there are a handful plants that initially grow so slowly as to try one’s patience. But in the end, these are the very plants that turn out to be the real stars, the most satisfying, the most magnificent. Curleaf Mountain Mahogany is a great example of this. I planted this one as a tiny seedling about 12 or 13 years ago and then waited expectantly. For two, three or even four years it barely inched up. Then suddenly one year–without warning–it started to grow . . . and grow . . . and grow. Now I consider it to be the queen of the nursery garden, a real gem and a delight in every season. The opposite story is the notorious Silver Maple. Fast growing, these were planted widely as nearly instant shade trees about 60 years ago. I just had the third of four Silver Maples at my house removed. (Expensive! It involved a crane.) They all were reaching the end of their lifespan and threatening to crush my house. The really bad story about these weedy trees is that they are now colonizing the banks of the Boise River, especially downstream from Boise, crowding out our native Cottonwoods. I guess the best things in life are often worth waiting for.
This was the scene yesterday over at the vegetable
beds near the nursery: last year’s lettuce popping up again in March! This has
been going on for several years now: Pam & Roger, the gardeners, allow some
of their lettuce to go to seed, and–voila!–we have all kinds of baby lettuce
the following spring. If thinned, many of these will produce beautiful big
At this point, you make be contemplating a Victory Garden. Good idea! If you
don’t happen to have lettuce volunteers, it’s not too late to seed–and lettuce
comes on fast in the spring.
It is officially spring, and few plants announce that fact more enthusiastically than Mountain Alyssum. Just starting to bloom in the garden, this hardy European wildflower joins the crocuses, grape hyacinth and the early daffs in promising a coming riot of joyful color.
As many of you know, insects are in crisis. The latest numbers from the Xerces Society are very troubling. Destruction of habitat–the result of industrial farming and general human sprawl–is probably the main cause for the catastrophic decline of many insect species. But those of us who own or control even a small bit of ground can help out by creating better habitat, especially by growing flowering plants. The above photo of bumblebees on Nodding Onion in the demonstration garden shows the potential. A new booklet, “100 Treasure Valley Pollinator Plants” is hot off the press, full of information to help folks make planting decisions that will benefit all kinds of bugs. The booklets will be available at the nursery next spring. It was the brainchild of Judy Snow, who also created the Pollinator Garden at the Garden City Library–always worth a visit!
These lovely Asters have been blooming away in my backyard for several weeks now. As the growing year winds down, there is nothing more satisfying–for us and especially for the bees–as fall-blooming Asters. One member of this tribe, Boltonia or “False Aster”, has on occasion bloomed clear into December! Are things looking a bit dull in your yard right now? Think Asters!
Fall is coming and it feels like the beginning—not the end–of our nursery season. Since most of our plants are perennials, they grow slowly. When started from seed in the spring, most of them are just ready for sale about now, which means that this time of year we have the most to offer. The tables are full! But, more importantly for you the gardener—fall is the premium time to plant perennials. Small starts go into the ground as the weather is cooling and so avoid the heat stress of summer. They have many months to keep working on their big root systems—one secret to drought tolerance—before being put to the test next year. Fall planted perennials are set to take off the next spring and they are often astounding in how much they grow in their first year.
This photo, taken August 18 on top of Trinity Peak at 9,500, is of one of my most beloved native landscape plants, Cutleaf Daisy. The wonder is that it grows well down here in Boise and also thrives at more than 6,000 feet higher! We learn by trial and error which high elevation plants can descend to the valley and which can’t.
Greetings from New Mexico! I am here visiting my daughter and brand new granddaughter. Meanwhile, a couple hikes and some exciting plants. This one, Narrowleaf Yucca (Yucca angustissima) was seen growing in abundance at Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. As you can see from the photo, this (like all our true Western yuccas) is far different from the one you see all over Boise. So much more erect and structurally pleasing. Some of you may recall a previous rant about those wretched (Eastern) Yuccas . . . .
There is no sweeter place for a tiny xeric landscape than on a shed roof. This one was constructed by my friend David, a visionary gardener. When I climbed up a ladder to get a better look, I saw the expected sedums–but the big surprise was all the prickly pear cacti. Apparently they are shallow-rooted and completely suited to a green roof. Who knew?
I stopped by to see my friend Nell the other day and was wowed by her stunning front yard. A vibrant celebration of native plants, it features Orange Globemallow, Woolly Sunflower (aka ‘Oregon Sunshine’) and several different Penstemons. These are set off by Bitterbrush (on the left, just finishing bloom) and Curleaf Mountain Mahogany. Originally designed and installed by Casey O’Leary in 2013 and cared for by Nell ever since, it is a real inspiration!
Above is a view of Rush Skeleton Weed growing out of cracks in the asphalt just up the street from my house. At least that is what it looked like before I cut the stalks and painted the basal leaves with a very toxic herbicide. Departing from organic practices and employing chemicals has been a painful transition for me. Yet, in the case of Skeleton Weed, I can see no alternative. According to the Idaho Weed Awareness Campaign, it has infested a million acres in the state. You see it everywhere in the lower Foothills.
There are others too. Whitetop has just arrived in my neighborhood and I worry about it spreading. Field Bindweed (Morning Glory) is tough–just keep picking the leaves until it gives up (not easy). Cheatgrass spreads like wildfire (and loves wildfire!)–just pull it all and throw in the trash.
A hike on Sunday revealed a glorious spring bloom in the Foothills. Arrowleaf Balsamroot, Lupines, Evening Primroses, pink and white Phlox, Death Camas, Biscuitroot, Bitterbrush in its full-bloom glory and more. Despite the sea of invasive grasses, these troopers bloom on gamely, giving hikers a real show. I have found it difficult, if not impossible, to grow many of these local natives in the garden. So, I appreciate them in the wild, where they are happy. I hope you can too!
One of the most delightful signs of spring is the emergence of Aase’s Onion in open, sandy areas of the Boise Front. These charming natives are known to occur only in 6 counties of S. Idaho. Named in honor of Hannah Aase (1883-1980), a former botany professor at WSU in Pullman, this ephemeral beauty is also called the South Idaho Onion.
Most of us just encounter onions in the kitchen or in our soup. But it’s exciting to know that there are nearly 20 different onion species that are native to Idaho, and many, many more that are found elsewhere in North America. Another reason to keep your eyes on the ground when hiking!
A sure sign of spring–the yellow blossoms of Creeping Oregon Grape are a welcome source of pollen for hungry bees of all sorts. Oregon Grape (surprise!) is the state flower of Oregon, and the OSU Extension Service declares that no garden should be without one. The short, “Creeping” version in my front yard is an Idaho native–a lovely little evergreen shrub that grows in sun or shade. I definitely agree with OSU!
Each year as the leaves come down we can regard them as a nuisance or as a great gift of organic matter that benefit our landscapes. The Xerces Society’s new campaign Leave the Leaves articulates the benefits of leaves for our insect friends—check it out:https://xerces.org/2017/10/06/leave-the-leaves/ .
Or, if this is the year you have decided to kill some of your lawn, collect your neighbor’s unwanted leaves, put down a base layer of overlapping cardboard or heavy paper and pile the leaves on top. Plant into the mulch next spring.
The more I work with plants, especially native plants, the more I realize that the real goal is not simply replacing lawn and consuming less water. The real goal is creating Habitat: Habitat for bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, myriad other insects–and birds. (Build it and they will come!) A landscape that is truly a Habitat buzzes with life. It changes with the seasons. It evolves from year to year, always revealing new surprises. It creates the opportunity for new insights into the natural world that is everywhere around us. It is not static. There are many rewards for the gardener who creates Habitat, one of the best being that the Landscape becomes Habitat for humans!
If you have a moment, stop by the Garden City Library and check out the beautiful Pollinator Garden right next to the library. It was lovely last May when we celebrated its grand opening. And it is still beautiful now, at the tail end of summer. Creator Judy Snow has done a marvelous job of attracting all kinds of bees, bugs and hummingbirds by providing the food they need over a long growing season. It is an inspiration!
Draggin’ Wing will open for fall planting September 5 and be open for the whole month Wednesday-Saturday 10-5. Fall is the best!
I love it when customers send me photos of their beautiful landscapes. This one really knocked my socks off! Jacob filled his smallish front yard with a huge variety of plants, and his approach has paid off–low water but full of vibrant color. Photo courtesy of Jacob Durtschi.
The Paintbrush is blooming on Mores Mountain! It’s just one of the most striking sights awaiting hikers. But as much as people would love to have Paintbrush in their home gardens, I have not yet figured out how to grow these beauties in a pot–or even in the ground. Fun facts: 1) the red you see are bracts (modified leaves), which hide the tiny flowers 2) most Paintbrushes are semi-parasitic, deriving some of their nutrients and water from the roots of a host plant, a strategy that allows them to inhabit drier spots.There are about 250 species of Paintbrush in N. America and over 20 in Idaho. Photo courtesy of Kathleen Moyer.
May Flowers! It takes my breath away when May arrives and flowers just jump up out of the green. This year the woody Penstemons–like this one (Dwarf Shrubby)–are in exceptionally fine form. What makes for a good Penstemon year? What unique combination of winter cold, spring warmth, snow cover, rain, sun? It’s a mystery to me, but a delight to witness.
I have always adored the flowering pears in the middle of Harrison Blvd. That is, until I started thinking of them as Alien Ornamentals and understood what that implies. These showy spring beauties are cultivars of the Asian Callery Pear and–as members of an introduced species–they do not offer food for native insects. You may think, “Great! No pest problems!” The catch is that native insects feed native birds, especially while they are raising chicks. So as far as wildlife is concerned, these pears are a beautiful desert.
There isn’t a whole lot left of this native Snowberry bush in winter–except for those dramatic cascades of white berries! The berries themselves, though not poisonous are apparently not very palatable to birds and other wildlife. So they hang there lovely profusion throughout the winter. A well-named plant indeed.
January 10, 2018
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